Other Amphibian of the Week

Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)


Common Name: Hellbender or Snot Otter
Scientific Name: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
Family: Cryptobranchidae
Location: United States – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia
Size: 12 – 29 inches (30 – 74 cm)| Record: 2.5 feet (1.87 meters)

The Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders in North America, capable of reaching 2 and a half feet long and weighing 5 pounds. There are two subspecies of Hellbenders: Ozark Hellbender (C. a. bishopi) and Eastern Hellbender (C. a. alleganiensis). One of the key differences is where they are found. The Ozark subspecies is only found in southeastern Missouri and Arkansas. Another difference is in their morphology. For instance, the Ozark Hellbender has large spots and a molted chin, while the Eastern has small spots and uniformed color chin.

photo by Brian Gratwicke

Hellbenders are mostly aquatic, relying on dissolved oxygen in the water to breath. Due to this, they live in fast moving streams that are rich in dissolved oxygen. They also like streams with large rocks so they can hide under them. They hide under these rocks during the day. At night, they go out to eat what they can find, mostly crawfish and fish.

The breading season starts in September or October for these salamanders. For breeding, Hellbenders use external fertilization which is uncommon for salamanders. The males creates a spot for the female to lay the eggs. Once she lays the eggs, he will fertilize them. Then, he protects the eggs from predators in the stream.

Hellbender by Brian Gratwicke

Conservation for the Hellbender

Hellbenders are listed as Near Threatened with Extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. . The federal government lists the Ozark Hellbender as an endangered species. As well, many states have them listed as endangered. Hellbender populations have dropped because of over-harvesting, disease, and habitat destruction in the form of damming rivers and pollution from mining. There are many conservation groups working to save the species. Captive bred individuals are being released while groups are working to restore streams.

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